2-5-14 Notes - Union Organizing and Class Struggle
University of California - Berkeley
Union Organizing and Class Struggle
• Collective bargaining!
• Workers go on strike to stop production. Idea is that letting the
strike go on is more costly than dealing with the workers’ requests.
• Strike breakers aka scabs aka replacement workers are brought in by the
companies, then the unions tried to stop them from getting into the
• Intervention of government made this stuff dangerous because they
intervened with guns to protect the strike breakers and stuff.
• A lot of strikes.
• The inaugural event of strikes is the…
I. Great Railroad Strike of 1877
• Context: depression that began in 1873 (mass uunemployment) started in
the BNO announced its second 10% wage cut and increased dividend and
increased exec salary
• Martinsburg WV – workers walked off work & spread the word thru
• RR traffic was stopped all throughout the country.
• Sympathy strikes were also a thing
• General strike in Chicago and St. Louis – in some places it was even
across race lines (esp in the south – not in SF where it became anti
• When local police refused to put down strikes, governers in 10 states
called out the state militias – sometimes they didn’t put it down but
joined them instead. – in Pittsburg, the militia shot at a crowd
• Citizens Militias were formed in upper and middle class like in
• Request for Pres Hayes to send federal troops and he did – he sent the
army to put them down, they were brought east from fighting the Sioux
to fight against workers in ny.
• Federal govt built armories right outside major cities (imposing
fortresses) as a kind of symbol of the larger public policy which was
for the federal govt to help the employers win.
II. Labor Organizations
• In the 19th century, workers formed an array of organizations and
believed they could improve their lives collectively in ways that they
couldn’t do individually.
• See Estimated Union Membership – see first peak in 1886.
• Dozens of labor unions were organized in the 1880s (esp building
trades, miners, printers, metal workers, “rr brotherhoods”)nationally
so that whatever you want in your best organized place you would
support other workers trying to bring the ir conditions up to the same
• Categorizing. The first way to distinguish between craft unions and
o Craft/trade – organized by job they do (plasterers etc) o Industrial – organized by industry in which they worked (united
• The second way is by their aspirations
o Labor reform – union has broad concerns for improving society as
a whole for workers – “emancipating the working class”
o Trade union – promoted in interests of its members
A. Knights of Labor
• Labor reform union interested in emancipating the working class.
• 1869 – first organized 1879 – gone national
• Cooperative commonwealth – workers would be owners, industry
would be organized in cooperatives owned and operated by workers
• Linked to a broad membership (except: lawyers & saloon-keepers &
• Organized in local assemblies, led by the head of the knights of
labor (Terrence Powderly)
• The assemblies operated kind of like fraternal assemblies –
• “Noble Order of the Knights of Labor”
• They put a lot of store in education – they would go to lectures
and published stuff
• There were a lot of trade unionists in the group – union labor
campaigns – “don’t buy unless you see the union label” – union
bugs – appeal to consumers to say that if the company treats the
workers well the product was better and worth it – boycott
unfair employers (who refused to recognize the union)
• Membership shot up after strike successfully against jay gould
• Its leaders promoted inclusivity, organizing women and men and
blacks and whites together (Frank Farrell)
• Run candidates in local elections because if you have a strike
you want the police to be on your side (or at least neutral)
• Weakened in 1886 following haymarket affair & a much less
optimistic strategy emerged…
B. American Federation of Labor
• AFL was an organization of trade unions led by Samuel Gompers
til he died in 1924
• Gompers developed “pure and simple unionism” or “pure and
simplism” it meant that you would drop all polit